Monthly Archives: October 2009

Rabbit Class: Brooklyn

I know, I know, first there was the chicken class in Kansas City. And then there is the upcoming turkey workshop in Austin, TX this Saturday. And now, I’d like to announce the Brooklyn rabbit class.

The Complete Rabbit, Brooklyn, NY November 15

Rabbits are the new chicken. More and more urban farmers are discovering the benefits of raising rabbits for meat in the city: bunnies are quiet, prefer to be kept in shady locations, reproduce quickly, and can be fed scraps.

This class will cover rabbit basics: housing, sourcing food for them on a budget, breeding, and harvesting. A quick and humane technique for killing meat rabbits will be demonstrated, as well as dressing and preparing the rabbit for the table.

Following the slaughter portion of the class, there will be a three hour break, and class will resume at Marlow and Daughter for a hands-on butcher and cooking class with Samin Nosrat. She will demonstrate how to extract the most flavor from your rabbit, with recipes for a rich stock, kidney and liver paste, Tuscan rabbit ragu and tips on how to best season, grill and braise the meat.

What: Complete Rabbit
Where: for legal reasons this class is being held at an undisclosed location in Brooklyn; once enrolled, we will give you the name and address
When: Sunday, November 15, 1pm-4pm how-to and slaughter; with butchery part of class starting at 7pm at Marlow and Daughter in Brooklyn.
Cost: $100
Number of students: 16 maximum, students will work in pairs with a shared rabbit and then take home half a rabbit.
If you are interested in the class, please email me: novellacarpenter at gmail dot com and I will tell you how to register.

So some might wonder, why is it that in every city I travel to, something has to die?

As an urban farmer I’ve been doing all these things–planting, breeding, harvesting–in the private world of my little farmlette. After being on book tour for a few months (on and off), I came to know that it was possible to just go from town to town doing a power point presentation and never get my hands dirty. This seemed unbearably isolating. In fact, I started calling my physical body “The Carcass” while I was on tour. As in, The Carcass boards plane at noon, then is on book panel at 3pm. Fed Carcass dinner, early to bed, then meet for coffee with a local newspaper writer where Carcass says tantalizing things about urban farming movement.

But, you see, what the carcass really wants to do is hang out with the chefs at the local restaurant, help organize an event with the local food rabblerousers, and perhaps teach a class that will help other urban farmers. So, that was the motivation.

Now that Samin (the chef) and I have been actually teaching the classes, I realized that there is a huge hunger out there for people to connect to their food. Maybe they are raising chickens themselves and want to learn the best practice for culling a rooster. Maybe they have been thinking about raising turkeys but don’t know how to start. Maybe they are disturbed by factory farming and want to know their meat by raising it themselves. All of the people I’ve encountered so far are fired up after our classes. Something as intimidating as processing your own animal suddenly makes sense, it is doable, and here’s the thing–it is kind of beautiful. I remember the first time I learned how to kill a turkey. It opened my eyes to the entire world. I suddenly saw connections between me and my ancestors. I felt connected and reverential for the animals we eat. I also felt skilled and useful. It makes me proud to pass that feeling on. And so, I do.

If you can’t do the rabbit class, I’ll be at the following places in New York City:

November 10, Presentation. Horticultural Society of New York, 6pm

November 11, Reading. Vox Pop cafe, 1022 Cortelyou Road, Brooklyn NY, 7pm

Hope to meet you soon…If I start to look like a carcass, slap me!

Inland Empire Report (and calling Kansas City!)

Oh lordy, things are really hopping here. I don’t want to toot my own horn, but there’s a really neat video that did about me and my goats, it’s called Novella Carpenter’s backyard is a pigsty. Which is true in many ways. check it out here.

I just flew in from a few days in the Inland Empire, aka, Eastern Washington and Idaho, where I was doing a series of public talks and supporting a great new coop grocery store in Spokane. Moscow was very special because so many of my mom’s homesteading friends from back in the day came to listen to my stories about their stories. Fun. Someone at the pre-reading dinner said, “this is like meeting characters from a novel!” There they were–Barb, Phil, Lowell, Mary, and Fran–all so excited and supportive of my writing. I can’t express how great this made me feel.

After the reading I got the chance to talk to Lowell, the beekeeping “character” in Farm City. He doesn’t keep them anymore–foulbrood and equipment failure–but he still farms out on his land, growing corn and keeping chickens, has a few horses. I have fantasies of a “family” reunion in Orofino come August. Lowell said he’d make the chicken, which, if I remember correctly, involves vinegar, poultry seasoning, and a slow roast.

Barb drove me to Spokane. She’s the coolest mother of 20 year olds I’ve ever met, wearing this outrageous raven necklace and pirate stockings. She gave me a bracelet that I’ll treasure forever, which says: Redefine the Impossible. That is pure Barb. I can only dream of being as funny and plain old fun as she is.

Spokane was such a lovely surprise. The downtown is sweet, filled with gorgeous old brick buildings, pastry shops, yummy restaurants, and old classy bars. And did I mention a Dick’s Drive-in? Amazing fries. I did a rabbit demo class at a nice resto called Sante. The chefs prepared rabbit in various ways, and about 40 people were served a rabbit tasting menu–terrine, stew, confit, and an incredible cassoulet with green garbanzo beans. After eating, there was a rabbit butchery demo. Everyone gathered around a whole rabbit and a wise old rabbit farmer took it apart and made suggestions for cooking. I talked about my adventures in raising rabbits, and made people look at photos of rabbits having sex. What was especially cool about the dinner was the diners were all quite seriously considering raising rabbits, or wanting to get in touch with their food in a meaningful way. And they wanted to support local farmers and the broader community. It was like a little town, but with good coffee.

And a great bookstore. With total rabbit breath, I snuck up to Aunties, an impressive indie bookstore in the heart of Spokane and did a reading, with one of the sweetest, warmest audiences I’ve ever run across. Still, I needed a drink by then, so we headed to a bar/resto called Hill’s that features some tasty food, including locally grown favorites like Rocky Mt. oysters, and camelina seed hummus.

In the morning, I found myself in front of a big audience of community college students, talking about pig heads. They did not seem to mind. On the plane by high noon, wisps of Santa bresola in my carry-on. I had no idea touring would be so f-ing fun…

Which brings me to my next point: imagine this: me and Samin (!), in Kansas City, MO, in only a few days! We’re jumping on a plane to do a reading on Saturday October 24 at the Bad Seed Kitchen. Then Sunday there will be a chicken raising class and culling demo. Which will be hands-on, btw, everyone will have a chicken of their own. Samin will then do a breakdown and a demo on how to cook a home-raised hen (read: older, tough) so that it tastes delicious. Samin and I are going to be like your yoga coach, who will put you in the correct posture while you pluck a chicken, just as an example. If you live in the area, you better get your butt over to the reading and/or the class. More info is available at Bad Seed. Please help us spread the word, I’m not sure how many students have signed up!

Turkey Class: Austin, Texas

Welp, I’m going to do it. Teach a turkey raisin’ and killin’ class in Austin. The day before I go on a panel with Jonathan Safran Foer, vegetarian author of Eating Animals (and two great novels). There’s another guy on the panel who will be talking about how local food and eating meat is just all wrong. Don’t think I don’t recognize a paradox: I’m the nutball Californian coming to Texas where I will be the only gal (ahem) on stage promoting meat eating. 

It is fitting, then, that while I’m in Texas, I’m going to revisit the first meat bird I raised: the all-American turkey. A small-scale, locally raised, heritage breed turkey embodies all of the issues I grappled with as a blossoming urban farmer: why eat meat? can I kill it myself? how does this turkey feel about this process? how does this make me more or less human?

But this time, come October 31, I’m going to teach other people how to do it. I’ve taught this class before: last year, to a group of college students who were learning about urban farming. The feedback I got was powerful: the students had a new understanding of Thanksgiving, of what it means to eat meat. One of the students was a vegan, and I respected him so much for coming to see exactly what he opposed and to figure out why. I think that’s great. I do think people should eat less meat. And I think it’s good to take a really close look. 

I’m lucky that my brilliant and wonderful friend happens to be an urban farmer in Austin, and she raises heritage breed turkeys on her farm! She has graciously offered her urban farm as a place to host a class. And so, if you are in Austin, or know someone in Austin, please sign up or spread the word; details follow. 

The Complete Turkey

Saturday, Oct 31, 10am-1pm

For meat eaters, raising turkeys is a dare, a stunt, a Herculean effort. The turkey is the most American of birds—native to North America, eaten by Indians, Aztecs, and pilgrims. Most people, come November, eat a Thanksgiving turkey without really knowing what a turkey looks or acts like, much less all the work that goes into raising one of these birds for the table.  In this class, we will show best practices for raising your own Thanksgiving turkey, including feeding, coop construction, breeding, and day to day care.

Following these basics, we will “harvest” a heritage breed turkey. Novella will demonstrate a humane, fool-proof method of dispatching a turkey, including plucking and cleaning. Seeing this process firsthand will make your upcoming Thanksgiving more meaningful than ever.

What: Complete Turkey, Oct 31

How much: $30/person

Time: 10am-1pm; 3 hours total

Attending: 15 max

Where: East Austin, address given upon registration.

About the Instructor Novella Carpenter is the author of Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer (the Penguin Press, June 2009). She farms on a 4500 square foot abandoned lot near downtown Oakland and has been raising farm animals in urban areas for over ten years. Her writings have appeared in Mother Jones, Food and Wine,, and more. She studied with Michael Pollan for two years at University of California Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism.

To sign up, email novellacarpenter@gmail dot com for further instructions.turkey1

Canning tomatoes…again

Roommate call: We have a room in our downstairs apartment that is opening up November 1. Perfect for a nice couple who likes music, ghettos, and goats. $725/month Contact me if you might be interested: novellacarpenter at gmail dot com

Original post:

God, I love a rainstorm paired with a day of roasting and canning tomatoes. Especially after a few days of traveling.  


The day before I left for a reading in Madison, Wisconsin (for a report on that, see Farm City News), Bill and I went to Ned and Ryan’s farm, Blue House Farm in Pescadero, to glean our annual crop of dry-farmed Early Girls. For the past three years now we make the hour drive south, pick unsold fruit, then can it up for next year. It’s a gift to our future selves, future selves which will be cold and snotty in the winter, tomato-less in the spring, and food snobbish when it comes to store-bought, tinned tomatoes.  

Of course, it took us all day to pick the tomatoes. Blue House had suffered from late-blight, just as so many other farms around the country. Late blight is a fungus that can kill the entire plant, capable of hitting when the fruit is big and full of promise. The fields were filled with ravaged, dead tomato plants, two acres-worth. Some of the fruit looked okay–red, shiny–until you turned it upside down and saw the strange wrinkled pattern that marks blight. Some were green and black, covered with warts. In year’s past, these dry-farmed beauties were the best tomatoes I’ve ever had. So seeing the carnage of such deliciousness was supremely heart-breaking. All that work to plant, then stake and tie so many tomatoes. My poor farmer friends! Poor blighted farmers everywhere!

Lucky for gleaners, though. About one tomato in 20 were totally fine. It was too much work (and probably too depressing) for Ned and Ryan to salvage these, so Bill and I walked down all the aisles of tomatoes, pausing to check each one, picking the good, abandoning the bad. As we walked down the rows and rows, we could hear fruit thudding to the earth on their own accord. 

Still: happy day for these salvaged tomatoes! We took five buckets filled with yummy red tomatoes. You might never guess at the blight that had affected their siblings. Because the picking took so long, Bill and I didn’t start canning until 8pm. I had a flight to catch at 8am the next day, so I just stayed up all night, canning 50 jars of lusciousness to last all winter. Luckily, there were some unripe, greenish/orange tomatoes left over. When I came back from Madison five days later, they were ready.


Since I had more time, I remembered what I learned last year: roasting them makes them even more incredibly delicious! So on this crazy windy, stormy day where everything is wet and tousled, I’m roasting tomatoes (added bonus that this then heats my house), canning them in the pressure canner, and I’ll be thanking farmers Ned and Ryan for their crop all winter and spring long. And next visit, I’ll be sure to bring them a jar of the good, roasted stuff. 



Wash and cut tomatoes in half, place cut side down on baking sheet (noticed glass pans work better), drizzle with olive oil. put in oven at 300 degrees. bake until collapsed and slightly brown on top. meantime, sterilize glass wide-mouth quart jars, either in the oven or microwave with some water in them. let the tomatoes cool slightly then add hot tomatoes to hot jar (if the tomatoes are too hot, the jar will crack). meanwhile also sterilize lids in boiling water. place a lid on each quart jar then screw the lid on with the collar (aka the other part of the lid–doesn’t have to be sterilized). if you have a pressure canner, process the tomatoes at 11 pounds of pressure/250 degrees for 20 minutes. If you have a water bath canner, you might need to add 1 tb lemon juice to be on the safe side and get the acid balance right. Process under 2 inches of boiling water for about an hour. Once the jars are done processing, take them out of the water and line them up where they can remain undisturbed for 12 hours (this is so they seal correctly). Store in a dark place. Caveats: i never peel or seed my tomatoes because i’m lazy and i think they taste better intact (i’m probably wrong). Freezing tomatoes is a great way to go, so don’t feel bad if you don’t want to can!

Things I Learned in France

frenchbountyI returned to the United States early this week, jet lagged and haggard. Billy picked me up in Miami and we went directly to the Calle Ocho–which is where the best Cuban food in America is made. We then drove back to Orlando where another plane would take us back to San Francisco. Our bellies full of Chicken with Yellow Rice and Cubano sandwiches, we cruised down the highway in a Lincoln Continental (the car of Bill’s mom). As we drove, the band Denegue Fever rocked our world, and a lightening storm started. I’ll admit it: I always feel relieved when I return to the United States. Everything feels so ad hoc and jumbled, for good and bad, I suppose.

But: France. And the untrammeled loveliness that is the Corbieres region where my sister lives. That is something. I could brag about the amazing farmers markets, the bread, and the wine that I had the chance to experience. What really moved me, this trip, was the natural abundance found in the hills around their tiny village.

My sister, of the blog These Days in French Life, documents the bounty of this place very well. To experience it firsthand is another thing entirely. I came during the vendange when all the tractors are rolling through the villages, carts stacked with grapes going to press. The workers (who are paid about 10 euros an hour) become dusty and covered with grape juice. One day, we ventured out to pick grapes in a field long abandoned, so the grapes had gone wild. Oh, their sweet dusky fruit! Along the way, we stopped at almond trees and picked the nuts. Later, we went to the Med and trolled for clams, which Riana then made into an amazing dinner, cooking them with wine and cream. I started to have delusions that I could just move to France and wander, gypsy-like from harvest to harvest, living off the land. Bill and I might just do that next September, on bikes.

Being an ever-alert farmer, I did want to learn a few tricks, that’s one of the greatest things about traveling. I learned the following:

-At the honey shop where they had a bee demonstration and this foxy French beekeeper explained how bees make honey and how they then harvest it,  I finally figured out how a professional cuts the cappings off a frame of honey. Instead of laying it facedown on a flat surface (like I’ve been doing for years), they have an anchored metal tip where they balance the frame while decapping. Genius!

-At the farmer’s market (where I bought some amazing saucissons and some of that pink rose garlic (Rose du Tarn)–do they sell that in the States?), there were vendors selling vegetable starts. No big deal, but it was how they sold them that I liked. Instead of using 6 packs like here, they simply had an entire tray of seedlings, and you would buy how many you wanted. Like 20 lettuce plants. They would then cut them out of the soil, count them and put them in a bag. Or, there was a lady selling leeks–50 for 3 euros. She would pluck them directly out of the plug trays, then bundle them for you to take home. So elegant and efficient!

-Riana and I went to visit a rabbit farmer, and I was really psyched about her rabbit feeding procedure and fattening runs. Since this farmer lady and her husband grow all their own food, including the animal feed, they didn’t ever buy pellets for the bunnies (which has been bothering me lately about my operation). Instead, they fed them on dried alfalfa (lovely green, leafy stuff), wild fennel, and a grain ration which was barley and oats. That’s it! The rabbits were healthy and large. The baby rabbits were left with their mothers until two months, when they were moved to giant runs–12 feet by 4 feet–a litter in each run where they fattened and got some exercise.

We took a rabbit home from the farmer lady, and that next morning I showed Riana and her neighbor my fail-proof method for killing, skinning, and cleaning a rabbit. It was very cyclical, because I first was inspired to keep rabbits because my sister lives in France, and now I was passing on what I had learned a few years later.

Now that I’m back in the States, although the general vibe is so different from France, the principles are the same: find the bounty, savor it, learn from it, and share it.